Housing And Urban Governance

INTEGRATING COMMUNITY RIGHTS, PRIORITIES AND EXPECTATIONS INTO THE LAGOS RESILIENCE AGENDA

 

Building a resilient mega-city is important. Public infrastructure matters. Beautifying Lagos is necessary. But in doing all of these, government must respect human rights and put the PEOPLE first. These statements formed the crust of the high-level panel, Integrating Community Rights, Priorities, and Expectations into the Lagos Resilience Agenda, which SPACES FOR CHANGE | S4C, with support from Ford Foundation, organized on April 4, 2019 at the Resilient Lagos Week 2019 (RLW2019). S4C’s panel discussion proceeds upon the premise that the state’s resilience-building interventions need to be locally-led, rights-respecting, attentive to community priorities and expectations, and situated on the strong pillars of collaborative problem-solving.

 

Held on April 2- 5, 2019, in Lagos, RLW2019 was an exciting week of expert presentations, exhibitions, high-level panels and robust conversations around policy shifts that need to be made in order to make the city of Lagos more resilient. The Lagos State Resilience Office (LASRO) organized the week-long event in collaboration with a consortium of local and international partners including SPACES FOR CHANGE, Heinrich Boll Foundation, Wateraid International and MercyCorps. Among other things, LASRO was set up to transform and accelerate the city’s focus on resilience to physical, social, environmental and economic shocks and stresses.

 

The four panelists at the special panel comprising community representatives, a senior government official and an international urban expert discussed the difficult resilience challenges facing low-income and informal communities, including vulnerable populations in Lagos where the frequency and magnitude of shocks and stresses are already acute and continue to rise.  The panelists were Mrs. Olabisi Williams, a community mobilizer and executive of the Communities’ Alliance against Displacement (CAD); Chief Adeiye Aderibole, the Baale (community leader) of Igbo-Elejo community in Amuwo-Odofin Local Government; Mrs. Abiola Oseni, Director, Directorate for Citizen’s Rights, Human Rights Protection Unit, (represented by Mrs. Anthonia Oredipe, Deputy Director, Directorate for Citizen’s Rights); and Mr. Charles Abani, director, Chemonics International, who is also a seasoned international development practitioner and social innovator.

 

A video clip extracted from TVC News, shown at the beginning of the panel discussion, shed light on the nature of shocks informal communities in Lagos grapple with on a daily basis. The clip showing rescue operations at the recent building collapse at Ita-faji, the demolitions that ensued, the dilapidated housing infrastructure in the Ita-faji neighbourhood, the intensity of urban poverty and the lack of access to adequate shelter and basic urban services in low-income neighbourhoods, set the tone for the discussions centered on deepening and institutionalizing of communities’ rights and priorities into Lagos resilience agenda.

 

Chief Adeiye Aderibole called for the renewal of waterfront communities like Igbo-elejo (popularly known as Snake Island), particularly to combat seasonal flooding in those localities caused by heavy rains and rising sea levels. The construction of proper drainage systems in Snake Island and other waterfront communities, would help stem the tide of flooding, as was the case on Takwa-Bay Island also in Lagos State. Next in line of priority is urban security. The lack of public infrastructure such as street lights, access roads, police stations, fosters a conducive environment for violence and crime to flourish in the informal settlements. This, in turn, limits the entrepreneurial aspiration and safety of inhabitants. The call for urban renewal is neither an invitation to demolish homes nor to forcefully displace local residents, but rather, a call on government to work together with the locals to develop sustainable solutions to pressing city challenges.

 

Mrs. Olabisi spoke on the need to involve women and the youth in the state’s urban resilience and governance processes. Women run the homes, run businesses within communities, and run the support systems that enhance communality and solidarity in informal communities. Women’s closeness to the home, the community and environs, increases their vulnerability to various forms of violence during demolition exercises commonly witnessed in the informal settlements. Heightening women’s participation in urban governance cannot be achieved improving economic empowerment and access to sustainable livelihood. Displaced frequently and without any governmental assistance, most women and young people in the informal communities resort to street-trading to support their families. With street-trading outlawed in Lagos, these women and the youth often get arrested and their wares confiscated by officials, pushing them (and their families) deeper into poverty and want. Government support in the form of affordable rental stores can go a long way in bolstering women and youth empowerment.

 

In response to the comments made by the other panelists, Mrs. Anthonia Oredipe encouraged citizens to access the free legal services of the Directorate of Citizens’ Rights among other government bodies, whenever their rights are violated. Legal issues that can be resolved at the Directorate ranging from human rights protection (e.g. illegal arrests and detention, demolitions, forceful ejection of tenants, family matters,  police brutality, unlawful termination of appointment, delayed justice, illegal killings, rape, child defilement, e.t.c.), to consumer protection, child rights protection, prison watch (which ensures that awaiting trial inmates receive legal representation; and also ensures that children under the age of 18 years are not kept in regular prisons), among others.

 

The Lagos State Ministry of Justice (under which the Directorate operates) has over 500 lawyers offering free legal services to the public. To ensure citizens across the state have access to legal services, plans are underway to decentralize and domicile legal officers within each local government office. Improvements in intra-ministerial collaboration are also needed as this would afford legal officers an opportunity to appraise and advise on statutory safeguards before ministries take off ensuring that disputes/challenges do not arise. Presently, most government ministries carry out their ministerial functions without seeking legal advice which often creates tensions. Legal officers are often invited at a late stage to handle the litigation and/or manage dispute resolution.

 

Juxtaposing the comments from community representatives with that of the state official, Mr. Charles Abani, extensively analyzed the gaps between policy and practice that needs to be bridged. The issues presented relate to ‘governance’ challenges as opposed to governmental challenges. Governance, he pointed out, transcends government, encompassing the role(s) of diverse stakeholders including the private sector and civil society. Governance is not an event, but a rigorous and intentional process involving continuous dialogue and cooperation in line with laid-down rules and protocols. Where rules are not followed in delivering urban programs, it will lead to tensions, confusion and violations. That approach needs to stop. Engaging communities should be accorded utmost priority in the development of any urban agenda.

 

What and where are the rules guiding citizen-state dialogues and conversations around urban resilience and city regeneration? In 2017, SPACES FOR CHANGE developed the draft Eviction Guidelines which establishes humanitarian standards and international best practice for conducting demolition exercises in informal communities vulnerable to recurrent forced displacement. The Guideline set standards for the duration and issuance of mass eviction notices, modalities for citizen engagement and fair hearing, management of citizen/community objections, code of conduct for security operatives during demolitions and the court’s intervening powers. More effort is still required to consider and adopt this framework as a state policy to enable the state to make the scheduled urban reforms less painful to citizens.

 

The discussion between panelists elicited more questions and reactions from the audience comprising no fewer than 60 individuals from various works of life with an interest in housing and urban development, including senior officials of the Law Reform Commission, Public Advice Center, Lagos Island’ Balogun Street Landlords’ Association, Office of the Special Adviser to the Lagos State Governor on Communications and Communities, the Ford Foundation, Television Continental and SilverBird Television, civil society leaders and senior executives of international non-governmental organizations: Mercy Corps, Water-Aid International, and Heinrich Boll Stiftung – among others.

 

Questions, comments and feedback ranged from inquiries about data collation systems, to urban insecurity (especially the menace of ‘area boys’ and informal taxation), to strategies for harnessing the potential of the city’s burgeoning youth population. Others include leveraging advancements in information technology to improve access and the quality of public services, human rights protection for the poor and displaced, community outreaches to increase sensitization of communities on rights and civic duties, and allowance for localised renewal initiatives for communities and the establishment of practicable timelines for the resolution of community complaints.

 

Responding to the above, the Chief Resilience Officer of Lagos, Mr. Simon Gusah, reiterated government’s commitment to improve urban resilience and livability despite enormous political and bureaucratic hurdles. He assured that the issues raised by low-income communities into consideration in the state’s urban resilience framework. RLW2019 is a key part of LASRO’s stakeholder engagement, under our Phase 1, Preliminary Resilience Assessment (PRA) process. According to him, ‘it’s an opportunity to hear from a range of key stakeholders, drawn from three key sectors; Public/Government Sector; Private/Business Sector; and People/Civil Society Sector; the 4P (Public-Private-People Partnerships) approach in the Lagos City Resilience Strategy, due for release this year.’ Mrs. Oredipe also promised quick follow-up on unattended matters submitted to or pending before the Directorate of Citizens’ Rights.